The Eisenhorn Omnibus, written by Dan Abnett, is a collection of three novels; Xenos, Malleus and Hereticus respectively. They follow the central character, Inquisitor Eisenhorn as he makes his way through the giant, gothic universe of Warhammer 40,000 fighting evil and protecting humanity from a universe that desperately wants to kill and corrupt it. The three books are tied together mostly by Eisenhorn himself and some key supporting characters and the overall setting itself, which I will talk about below. Humanity has unlocked the secrets of long life, so the books take place over the course of decades and even centuries while maintaining a familiar setting and world that never really changes. What makes these books so accessible is that they focus on a very limited number of characters and so the reader is never overwhelmed by to many events or characters. That being said, there is nary a space marine in sight so I’m not sure how much these books even read like other Warhammer books.
The setting, I think, is usually a huge draw for most readers; I know it is for me. The universe of Warhammer 40k is a dark, gothic look at the future where humanity has settled on thousands of planets and there are trillions of humans living throughout the universe. The forces of Chaos, gods, space orks and mystical Eldar (space elves), seek to corrupt and destroy humanity from within and without. It’s a dark universe full of squalor and decay where life is not always worth living. Super soldier space marines fight a never-ending battle against evil and the Imperial Inquisition seeks to purify humanity wherever it finds malice and corruption. On a simple level, Warhammer 40k is a melding of gothic fantasy and sci-fi. It’s also a tabletop game that looks very complex and very intimidating and one that I’m sure I’ll never play. That being said, I didn’t find these books to be
For some reason, I had never read a single book from this world and I’m not sure why but the Internet told me that this collection of stories would give me a good introduction to the Warhammer universe, and I think that the Internet got it right this time (which is rare, I know). Dan Abnett uses a first person narrative from Eisenhorn’s POV, so we are given plenty of opportunities to read pages of explanation and information about both the actions of the characters in the book and the actions and movements of the greater universe. Abnett and Eisenhorn prove to be excellent guides into this giant and complex universe. After I finished the omnibus, I felt fully confident to tackle any of the many, many, different books set in this world.
The books themselves are very well written and fun to blow through in a short time; Dan Abnett is a very talented writer who has written some of my favorite comic books series (Annihilation from Marvel comics) and so it’s no real surprise that he writes so well in a big sci-fi universe. Abnett creates a steadfast yet engaging central character who is both ruthless and absolutely a religious zealot but who is also funny, likable and extremely human; it’s a really strong balance of characteristics that are hard to pull off but Abnett does a really good job of making Eisenhorn smart, engaging and likable but absolutely iron willed and devoted to his cause. The cast of fighters, mechanics and investigators that surround him are also pretty memorable, even if the death rate among them is extremely high. Abnett does not hesitate to kill characters, which really adds to the darkness and danger of the world Eisenhorn is operating in. Character death can be a cheap ploy to imply danger and meaning but it works well in these books.
While there are plenty of sci-fi conventions, such as giant space battles, robots and weird aliens, and while laser pistols are plentiful, each book in this series is essentially a detective story where Eisenhorn comes across some crime or evil that he must find, uproot and utterly destroy; Abnett does an excellent job of creating familiar aspects of a detective story and placing them in the far future of this book. While we don’t get that much insight into why Eisenhorn is the man he is, we do get plenty of examples of him acting like the religious zealot that he ultimately is. Abnett does an interesting thing where he slowly pushes Eisenhorn along a philosophical evolution from one extreme to another. It’s a very interesting aspect of the book that adds a nice touch to the action and fighting of the rest of the books. Warhammer 40k strikes me as a very stark, black and white place so it was very interesting to see a well developed philosophical problem for Eisenhorn to tackle. Fighting evil is often a no brainer, but it can get a tad tricky when you start thinking about how to fight evil and what steps and actions are worthy of pursuit.
The Eisenhorn Omnibus tells a surprisingly human tale; even though it’s a wildly futuristic look at humanity, it’s also imbued with a strong sense of humanity and human fragility, which is something that science fiction often forgets, but the very best examples of it never do. I would not say that this collection of books is among the very best that the genre has to offer, but Dan Abnett manages to capture much of what is great about science fiction in the pages and characters of his books. Well done.